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Tough State DWI Laws Save Lives

WEDNESDAY, July 25 -- State laws that require police officers to immediately suspend a person's license when he or she fails an alcohol breath test save hundreds of lives each year, conclude University of Florida researchers.

In a study published in the August 2007 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the researchers looked at data on alcohol-related crashes from January 1976 to December 2002, to see how state laws affected fatalities.

The data came from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which collects information on every traffic crash in the United States that results in at least one fatality. FARS is maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Florida team found that state laws that require immediate suspension of a driver's license for failing an alcohol breath test had a deterrent effect on drunk driving and saved 800 lives from fatal crashes each year.

State laws were tracked over the course of the study to determine all changes in every state. The study also accounted for differences over time among states, such as number of drivers, traffic levels, changing vehicle mix, auto safety standards, safety belt laws and speed limit changes.

"The threat of immediate suspension of the driver's license is a larger deterrent than the threat of more severe penalties that may occur at a later date. It has reduced fatalities from car crashes involving light, moderate and heavy drinkers," study lead author Alexander C. Wagenaar, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida College of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

Nine states still do not have immediate license-revocation laws: Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Tennessee.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have more about impaired driving.

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Posted: July 2007